Las Vegas Sun

March 25, 2019

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Event improves access to school for students with learning differences

New Horizons

Camalot Todd

From left to right: Former and current students of New Horizons Academy Center for Learning are shown on campus with Principal Barbara Bidell, far right, Jan. 31, 2019. They are, from left, James Swanson, 20, Jesse Kern, 17, Kiki Bull, 18, Kyree Carter, 17, Kanye Carter, 15, and Brendan Bidell, 16.

Seven students sit in a half circle around the elephantine oak table. It comes up to the chins of some and the waists of others. They range from age 12 to 20. Some, like Kiki Bull, 18, and James Swanson, 20, graduated from New Horizons Academy and some, like Cash Johnson, 12, and Kanye Carter, 15, are still attending.

They take turns rehashing the troubles they had in school before transferring to New Horizons, which has an enrollment of 60-70 students and has served Las Vegas for seven decades.

Bull was bullied relentlessly at public school. Her anxiety escalated even after she transferred to online school. Johnson and Carter each have attention deficit disorders, which makes it challenging to focus in a normal classroom without support. Same for Brendan Bidell, 16, and 17-year-old Kyree Carter, Kanye’s brother.

Jesse Kern, 17, struggles with bipolar disorder and Swanson struggles with nonverbal learning disorder, ADHD and anxiety.

New Horizons transformed their view of what education could look like. The private, nonprofit school helps accommodate students' unique needs with education plans designed to overcome their individual struggles. However, the cost of attending — from $12,000-$14,000 — is prohibitive for many. The school teaches grades K-12.

The school hopes its first Possible Dream Gala, which will raise funds for scholarships, will give more students access to its singular learning environment. The gala will start at 6 p.m. Feb. 9 at the Westgate.

“You have to have some type of learning difference, so even if it’s like an emotional barrier that hinders learning,” said Barbara Bidell, the principal who is not related to the student Brendan. “Eventually they’ll grow out of it or they will find the skills to get them through it. Those kinds of challenges are really not accommodated in public [schools], and they can’t because you can’t meet the needs of 240 kids.”

More than 60 percent of the students attending the school are on the autism spectrum and many others struggle with dyslexia, processing disorders, attention deficit disorders and chromosomal disorders.

The school not only helps students with learning disabilities in core classes like math and English, but it also implements life skills including cooking, cleaning and money management into their curriculum. It has classes dedicated to communication, social skills, applying to college, job interviews and more.

Additionally, teachers help students cope with their issues and help them deal with those things via tactics outlined in a customized education plan. For example, Swanson was having difficulty sleeping at night and it negatively affected his schoolwork, so one of the goals in his education plan was how to cope with his sleeping disruption.

Each of the students’ plans fits their needs, Principal Bidell said. Kern’s plan, for instance, allows him to exit classrooms when his anger is becoming overwhelming. Johnson’s plan allows him to work in a quiet environment where he won’t be distracted by noise. Bull’s plan was designed to cope with her anxiety.

“Anything that you’re dealing with that’s hindering your learning definitely come here and they get you set up, come up with a plan so that you can graduate and be successful,” Bull said.

Bull will sing “Don’t Rain On My Parade” from the musical Funny Girl at the gala, her anxiety no longer limiting her stepping into the spotlight.

To learn more about the gala or to sponsor or buy tickets, visit newhorizons.vegas/event.